Today’s post wraps up my series on Mark Sageman‘s “Leaderless Jihad.” Sageman, an ex CIA agent and forensic psychiatrist, has researched the radical groups of Islamist jihadis. He first published on the subject in 2004, with “Understanding Terror Networks.” He presented his most recent theories in late 2007, in “Leaderless Jihad,” which he discussed at the New America Foundation on 2/20/08. My first four posts about Sageman’s work are linked below.*
At the end of his discussion Marc Sageman did a Q & A. Out of this and the earlier part of his talk, which I covered in the *previous posts, several significant ideas stuck with me. This youthful wave of jihad is about pride, about becoming “heroes for justice.” According to Sageman, they will be defeated by drugs, sex, and rock and roll, just as other “cool” movements. We have overstated the threat using exaggerated scare tactics. Al Qaeda Central with 40-50 members, however still is very serious and Sageman reminded his audience that. “They still want to kill us.”
- A major jihadi goal is expelling The Enemy from the lands of Islam. Jihadis do not feel there will be a future for them in their home countries until the repressive Mid-East regimes supported by Western countries are replaced. There is a poverty of positive role models for the youth of these countries.
- The original al Qaeda movement evolved into three waves, the third inspired by the the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Its current state has degraded and been watered down over time. The Internet jihadis are not particularly religious. And all jihadis — from those few left in Osama bin Laden’s group to today’s untold thousands inhabiting their virtual chat-rooms — remain very dangerous “rejectionists” who want to become heroes by fighting Americans or Europeans.
- Sageman is pessimistic about Europe. The prognosis of progress in rooting out terrorism in Europe is not good. Sageman believes that European countries do not yet assimilate Muslims as well as does the United States. Noting that these jihadis are third generation of Muslims of imported labor brought in to rebuild Europe after the war. Often they come from north Africa or south Asia. Sageman’s research found that most of them do not speak Arabic or read the Koran.
- There was no trauma that triggered jihadis’ radicalization and violence, nor does it come out of humiliation. It is about injustice (killings, rapes, unfair arrests, etc). They become more radicalized via interaction with each other. Poverty is a rationalization that comes later. Sageman does not feel their rehabilitation is possible. But he feels the wave of “Jihadi Cool” will fade decay for internal reasons.
- The current 140-150 members of Al Qaeda got a new lease on life through the non-aggression agreement between Pakistan and its Tribal Areas in Waziristan. They are now more in the open, meeting with the European jihadis in Mir Alley, but it is not a resurgence. Most European jihadis are not accepted into Al Qaeda, but are trained and sent home with their assignments. Many are then arrested and the plots disrupted.
- Who are the targets of jihad? First choices are uniformed Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of second choice would be “official” Americans, symbols of America abroad such as embassies. They are not trying that hard to come to America. “The lines at the airport are just too daunting,” Sageman observed wryly. The final targets don’t get much thought, according to his research. Many jihadis get caught up in the desire to acquiring means and weapons, which are then used against random targets of easy opportunity.
- Counter-terrorism? Sageman believes we cannot encourage people to become terrorists by occupying their countries. He admits we are somewhat “stuck,” limited in what we can do in Iraq. Caught in the crossfire, we must learn to leave a smaller footprint. “We can’t have Americans killing Muslims, no matter what,” Sageman asserts. Sageman reminded his audience that the U.S. has generally done well with its own Muslim communities.
- Afghanistan is a unique situation; mchange will be slow and from the bottom up. We are a threat to the local way of life. As other Western countries sometimes knew in the past, and as recently in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, “divide and rule” worked well. When we “lumped” all afghan fighters into one group, they unified. Lately there have been fragile Al Qaeda alliances with tribes or parts of very “Xenophobic” tribes. There are many thousands of Taliban, a resistance movement to the central governments, with overtones of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism.
Forum: Lucidity is another blog community where I often post. The topic “New Study on Muslim World,” generated a number of very thoughtful comments about Sageman’s studies and jihad in general. Of particular interest to me are those on how America must learn to “leave a smaller footprint.” There are several anecdotes about American military leaders and soldiers who were particularly wise in their choices of action to diminish conflict.
View my current slide show about the Bush years — “Millennium” — at the bottom of this column.
(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)
My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.